Monday 23 October 2017

Expectant mothers' poor diets a risk to their unborn child

Mums-to-be are failing to hit their nutritional targets. Stock Image
Mums-to-be are failing to hit their nutritional targets. Stock Image

Lynne Kelleher

Few Irish expectant mothers are eating the right diet during pregnancy, according to a new study.

The study, which measured food and drink intakes of women attending the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, found many mums-to-be did not meet the national guidelines for nutrition in pregnancy.

It found nine out of 10 pregnant women ate too much saturated fat, nearly all don't consume enough vitamin D, one in three fails to take the recommended folic acid supplement and a fifth doesn't take enough iron. Co-author of the study dietitian Dr Dan McCartney said it was the first study of its kind in Ireland.

"We were surprised at the broad cross-section of nutrients that were being consumed at inadequate levels," said the lecturer in human nutrition and dietetics at Dublin Institute of Technology.

The study noted there was a "large body of evidence linking nutritional deficits in utero and in early life to disease in adulthood".

It said: "Low iron status in pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight and impaired cognitive development, while low maternal vitamin B12 status has been linked with increased risk of small-for-gestational-age infants and insulin resistance in childhood."

The most striking finding of the new Irish study was 99pc of women did not meet the national recommendation for vitamin D intakes - which is generally low in the Irish population due to lack of sunlight - during pregnancy.

"Low vitamin D status has been associated with a wide range of adverse maternal and offspring health outcomes such as impaired glucose tolerance, low birth weight and poor foetal skeletal development," said the study which was published in the 'Journal of Public Health'.

It also found intakes of folate, calcium and iron below recommended levels are of "major concern".

Only one-in-three women achieved the recommended intake of folic acid a day.

This is of concern because a lack of folic acid is linked to neural tube defects - mainly spina bifida and anencephaly, a condition where the foetus is missing parts of the brain and skull.

The nutrition study on women attending the Coombe Hospital found nearly all women only begin folic acid supplementation at some stage during pregnancy but not the recommended 12 weeks before conception.

Dr McCartney said: "If you don't have adequate folates towards entering pregnancy, you are much greater risk of having a child with spina bifida or anencephaly."

Irish Independent

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